STEM OPT Extension

Qualified students on Optional Practical Training (OPT) in one of the designated STEM fields can apply for a 24-month extension of their OPT. Click here to view a recording of a 24-month STEM OPT webinar hosted by OIS.

Students must file an application with USCIS to apply for the STEM extension of OPT. During the STEM extension period students may only work for employers who are enrolled in the E-verify system and the employer must agree to update OIS within 5 business days when the student leaves or the employment is terminated.

E-verify is a system that shares information between the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to verify that a potential employee is eligible to work in the United States. During the STEM extension students may change employers or work for multiple employers, provided that all employers are enrolled in the E-verify system. Not every employer is enrolled in E-verify and there is not an official list of E-verify employers. Therefore, students will need to confirm this information with the employer directly. If the employer has questions about the E-verify system, please refer them to the USCIS website or their human resources professional.

During the STEM extension students are required to update OIS within 10 days of any change in their legal name, immigration status, employment status, or residential address. The process of reporting these changes is described below in the STEM Extension Reporting Requirements. Students must also report to OIS every six months, even if their information has not changed, using the online OPT Employment Validation Form. Please see the FAQ page about the STEM extension and contact OIS if you have any questions.

STEM Eligibility Requirements

  • Student must have completed a degree program in a STEM field.  The list of STEM fields has recently been updated by Department of Homeland Security. The new STEM field list is effective May 10, 2016.
    • The “CIP” code is used to standardize majors and is what a student should use to determine if his or her major appears on the STEM list. If a student is not able to identify his or her CIP code on page one of the I-20, the following link provides CIP codes for all NC State instructional programs.
  • Student must be engaged in an approved post-completion OPT in order to apply for the STEM extension.
  • Student must have a job offer from an employer enrolled in E-verify.
  • As of May 10, 2016, students may apply for the STEM OPT extension based on either their current degree or on a previous STEM degree earned at an accredited U.S. institution.  F-1 students are eligible for one 24-month STEM extension per qualifying degree.  Students may become eligible for an additional 24-month OPT STEM extension by completing another degree at a higher level for a total of two 24-month STEM extensions per lifetime. Degrees earned outside of the U.S. cannot be used as a basis for a STEM OPT extension application.

Types of Employment

During the STEM extension period, students must be employed for at least 20 hours per week by an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to their field of study. Types of employment that are allowed during the STEM extension period are:

  • Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s most recently completed degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Bona fide employer-employee relationship. The new STEM rule requires that students have a bona fide employer-employee relationship for the employment to be eligible for the STEM extension. This means that employment through a temp or staffing agency or work for hire where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship may not be eligible under the new rule.
  • Paid employment. As of May 10, 2016, unpaid internships and volunteer work are no longer eligible employment opportunities for the STEM OPT extension. Similarly, students cannot represent themselves as both employer and employee on the I-983 form, meaning self-employment is also not allowed.

Please note: it is the student’s responsibility to maintain documentation for each job held during the OPT period. It is recommended that students obtain proof that the position is/was related to the STEM field that the student completed, duration of the position and contact information for the manager/supervisor

STEM Extension Application Process – Step I: Submit your STEM Extension Request to OIS

Before sending the STEM OPT application package to USCIS, students need to receive a new Form I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation from OIS. Please allow 10 business days for processing and issuance of the new I-20. In order for OIS to issue the STEM OPT I-20, student must submit via mail, e-mail (ois@ncsu.edu) or in person to OIS:

  • Copy of previous EAD(s)

OIS issues a new Form I-20 with the STEM extension recommendation and a new travel endorsement page. You will need a copy of this document to be included as part of your application to USCIS. When your I-20 is ready, you will receive an email from OIS with an attached cover letter that will include details for assembling and mailing the STEM OPT application to USCIS, as well as reporting requirements. If you’re unable to pick up the I-20 from our office, you can send us a shipping label and we will arrange the delivery of the document to your location.

STEM Extension Application Process – Step II: Mail the STEM OPT Application to USCIS

Student should mail the application to the appropriate USCIS office before the current EAD expires, but no earlier than 90 days prior to current EAD expiration date and no later than 60 days from the date the I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation was issued by OIS (as indicated by the Designated School Official’s signature date on page 1 of the I-20).

USCIS requires that the STEM application include:

  • Form G-1145 (optional): Use most recent version available at http://www.uscis.gov/g-1145. This form is for students who wish to receive electronic notification that their application has been accepted.
  • Check or money order for $410 stapled to I-765, made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • Two identical color photographs taken within 30 days of filing date. Paperclip the photos to the I-765. For specific photo requirements, refer to page 13 of the I-765 Instructions available at http://www.uscis.gov/i-765.
  • Copy of the new I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation from OIS (sign your I-20 before photocopying and leave a copy with OIS).
  • [Highly recommended but not required] Copy of the I-20 with the initial OPT recommendation from OIS. We also recommend that you include all other previously issued I-20s.
  • [Highly recommended but not required] Copy of an offer or employment verification letter from a qualified E-Verify Employer indicating job title, job description, and work location.
  • Copy of most recent F-1 visa.
  • Copy of passport bio page and/or expiration page (valid at least 6 months into the future).
  • Copies of current and previously issued EADs.
  • Copy of diploma and/or transcripts clearly showing graduation in a STEM field.  If diploma does not list your field/major, you must include transcripts.  Unofficial transcripts are fine.  USCIS does not need sealed, official transcripts.
  • Other forms or documents as may be recommended by your attorney or HR representative.

Information regarding employment authorization is subject to change. Students should confirm the application requirements, fees and process with USCIS. For the most up to date instructions regarding the I-765 please see: http://www.uscis.gov/i-765

If the application is approved, USCIS will issue a new EAD with the STEM OPT dates. Review the EAD card for accuracy and provide a copy to OIS. If you fail to provide a copy to OIS, you may lose your status and employment authorization.

STEM Extension Application Process – Step III: USCIS Processing

The following information should be kept in mind regarding USCIS processing of the STEM OPT application.

  • USCIS processing time is approximately 90 days from the day USCIS receives your application.
  • Within 2-3 days of USCIS receiving your application, you should receive a text message or email, if you included the G-1145 form with your application.
  • Within about 2-3 weeks you should receive a paper receipt notice from USCIS at the address listed on the I-765 indicating that your case has been accepted for processing.  If you do not receive this within 30 days, you should contact USCIS as there may be an issue with the mailing address you indicated on the I-765.
  • The paper receipt notice documents that your case has been accepted for processing by USCIS. Once your case is in process, your F-1 status and work authorization are automatically extended for a period of 180 days following the expiration date of your current EAD.
  • Once your case is approved, you will receive the I-797 Approval Notice and the EAD (separately).
  • If USCIS needs more information or documentation to approve your case, you will receive a Request for Evidence (RFE).  If you receive an RFE, please contact OIS immediately.

USCIS does not allow applicants to pay a fee for expedited processing and guaranteed adjudication by a certain date.  Rather, USCIS accepts requests for expedited processing of petitions filed in a timely manner based on certain criteria. Students may follow the instructions on the USCIS web page to determine if you meet the USCIS criteria for expedited processing and to complete an expedited processing request. OIS is not involved in the processing of any petitions filed with USCIS and any inquiries regarding the expedited processing request need to be sent to USCIS.

Students may also contact USCIS directly to ask questions regarding pending applications.  USCIS offers a request for inquiry regarding a pending petition. Students may follow the instructions on the USCIS web page to request an inquiry and update from USCIS regarding  their pending petition. OIS is not involved in the processing of any petitions filed with USCIS and any questions regarding the inquiry process need to be sent to USCIS.

STEM Extension Application Process – Step IV: Provide Copies of your EAD

  • When you receive the EAD, provide a copy to your employer.You must also provide a copy of your new EAD to OIS immediately via fax (919.515.1402), email (ois@ncsu.edu), or bringing the card to OIS in person for copying. OIS requires a copy so that your OPT extension and EAD can be verified in SEVIS.
  • If you fail to provide OIS a copy, you may lose your status and employment authorization.

STEM Extension Reporting Requirements

  • STEM OPT Validation (every 6 months). Every six months STEM OPT students are required to confirm their employment and address information. You must report to OIS 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months after the start of your STEM OPT extension by submitting the online OPT Employment Validation Form. The window for reporting a 6-month STEM OPT validation opens 15 days before the reporting date (i.e. the 6-month mark) and is due within 10 days of the reporting date.

Use our STEM OPT CALCULATOR to calculate your reporting windows.

  • Annual Evaluations (every 12 months). Every 12 months you must submit to OIS an annual self-evaluation on page 5 of Form I-983 on the progress of your training experience, which must be signed by you and your employer. The self-evaluation is due within 10 days of the reporting date.

Use our STEM OPT CALCULATOR to calculate your reporting windows.

  • Changing Employers (within 10 days). You must notify OIS within 10 days of changing employers by submitting:
    • Change of Employer form
    • New I-983 (pages 1-4) completed and signed by you and your new employer
    • Final self-evaluation of your performance with the previous employer on page 5 of Form I-983 signed by you and your previous employer (even if you were employed for less than 12 months).
    • Online OPT Employment Validation Form with the updated information.
  • Unemployment (within 10 days). You must notify OIS of any unemployment within 10 days of the event. This includes unemployment due to being fired, furloughed, laid-off, resigning, or the otherwise being unemployed. You must report the end date of your employment via OIS’s OPT Employment Validation Form.
  • Change in Information (within 10 days of the change). You must report changes in the following information within 10 days of the change via NC State MyPack or OIS’s OPT Employment Validation Form:
  • Material Changes to an Existing Form I-983 (at the earliest available opportunity). You must notify OIS of any material changes to, or material deviations from, your formal training plan as documented on the I-983. Notify OIS of any of these material changes by submitting an updated I-983 and OPT Employment Validation Form:
    • Any change of the employer’s EIN.
    • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
    • Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity.
    • Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.
  • Change in Immigration Status (within 10 days). You must notify OIS of any change in immigration status such as change to H-1B, F-2, etc. by submitting proof of the change of status such as an approval notice or new visa with I-94 to ois@ncsu.edu.
  • Transfer to Another School. You must notify OIS if you wish to transfer your F-1 record to another school in order to pursue another degree.  We will need to transfer your SEVIS record to the new school. Notify OIS of your plans by submitting the transfer out form (download from our Forms for Current Students page).  Your OPT/EAD is no longer valid the day of your transfer out.
  • Departure from the US (within 10 days). You must notify OIS if you complete your employment and return to your home country permanently by submitting OIS’s Departure Form (download from our Forms for Current Students page).

STEM Extension I-983 Training Plan and Evaluation Requirements

All prospective STEM OPT employers are required to complete a Training Plan (Form I-983) at the start of employment to establish expected outcomes and learning objectives. This reporting and oversight requirement establishes the extended OPT period as an integral piece of an academic training experience. Students will need to review Form I-983 every 12 months throughout the STEM OPT experience to self-assess progress and performance. The training plan, or Form I-983, can be found here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students-and-the-form-i-983.  A Form I-983 pre-populated with NC State University’s School SEVIS Code and DSO Contact Information can be found on OIS’s Forms for Current Students page.  Make sure to read the Instructions on Completing the Form I-983. If your employer has questions about this requirement, please refer them here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/employers-stem-opt-reporting-requirements.

If you have further questions, talk to your current employer or a potential new employer about the new I-983 Training Plan requirements. DHS has a wealth of information on their website for employers here:https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/employers-stem-opt-reporting-requirements. The employer should review the new requirements and work with you to start preparing the I-983.

Days of Allowable Unemployment

Students who are granted the 24-month STEM extension of OPT can have up to 150 cumulative days of unemployment during the 36-month OPT period (the original 12-month OPT plus the 24-month STEM OPT extension).

If you have any further questions regarding STEM OPT, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Additional information regarding the transition from F-1 OPT to H-1B is available on the USCIS website.